The Biochemistry of Life (A104)

There are so many things about human life that we take for granted.  For example, most people do not know that the engine that runs all the cells of the body is conceptually equivalent to a hybrid electric car. In a series-type hybrid electric car, the gasoline engine burns fuel and the energy generated is used to maintain the charge on the battery. The battery powers the electric engine, which moves the car. If the battery gets drained, the car will not run. The gasoline engine is just there to support the electric engine. The human body and the mitochondria of each of your cells operates in the same way. Mitochondria must constantly maintain their battery charge for you to live. 

To access the FREE seminars with full presentations and videos please visit Dr. Goodenowe’s resource site here. This is the article for seminar A104, Longevity and Immortality (Series A).

The human body contains trillions of cells. Each of these cells is tasked with performing specific functions. Our cells use hydrocarbons for energy much like your car engine does and your body stores and distributes these hydrocarbons much like your car stores energy in the gas tank and distributes it to the engine using a gas line. The engine draws fuel from the fuel line depending on how much energy the car needs. In the engine, gasoline is ignited by a spark and reacts with oxygen from the air to create carbon dioxide and water. The energy released from the breakdown of that bond is captured and converted into motive energy to drive a piston. This piston distributes energy to both the mechanical and electrical components of the car. The human body essentially does the same thing, only much better and more efficiently. The hydrocarbon energy contained in a single gallon of gasoline can sustain the average human for 20 days. Instead of gasoline, your body uses hydrocarbon-based food such as carbohydrates and fats as fuel. These complex hydrocarbons go through various digestion and purification processes to generate pure energy storage molecules: glucose (from carbohydrates) or fatty acids (from fat). These purified components are then packaged and stored as either glycogen or triacylglycerols so that they can be efficiently metered out to the cells of your body depending on the level of energy demand. The circulatory system distributes these energy molecules to all your body’s cells, and each cell absorbs these fuel molecules depending upon their need.  

The energy generator for all of our cells is an organelle called the mitochondria, and the fuel source of these essential intracellular organelles is a very simple two-carbon molecule called acetyl-CoA. Both glucose and fatty acids are further digested to acetyl-CoA before the mitochondria convert it into energy. The mitochondria biochemically combust acetyl-CoA into carbon dioxide and water using a series of gated reactions (so we do not blow up) and use the energy released to maintain a charged battery. This rechargeable battery is used to power an enzyme called ATPase which makes ATP. ATP is the biochemical energy molecule that the body uses to perform all its functions. The amount of energy contained within one acetyl-CoA molecule is used to make 36 ATP molecules. The amount of energy created by the human body and its efficiency at converting hydrocarbons to energy is mind-boggling. The average person manufactures 170 pounds of ATP a day — the weight of their own body!  

Accordingly, the most basic component of human life is the mitochondria. The needs of the mitochondria must be met for life to exist. These needs are the supply of acetyl-CoA and molecular oxygen and the removal of carbon dioxide and water. From here, we can build more complex functions. Viewed from the lens of the mitochondria, almost all the complexity of human biology and behavior can be traced back to this fundamental requirement. Likewise, all causes of death can be traced to mitochondrial failure of the brain. The human organism has various organ systems. When one or more of these systems start becoming dysfunctional, it can eventually lead to total failure. In the end, we all die of one thing: hypoxia, a lack of oxygen to the brain. When the brain stops working, whether because of a gunshot wound, smothering, or dying in one’s sleep, it makes no difference. When your brain stops getting oxygen, you die. Therefore, to live, everything about your body is built towards maintaining a sufficient level of oxygen and carbon supply while removing all waste material. This need is why we have circulatory systems, we have a heart, and we have lungs. Our body’s muscular system allows us to move to catch our prey, eat our carbon, and maintain the cycle. 

Dr. Goodenowe explains the relevant research and literature regarding the bioenergetics of life in seminar A104 – The Biochemistry of Life.